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Barefoot Manner: Bluegrass, quirks and enthusiasm

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Barefoot Manner was a string band gone haywire: In 2000, Shawn Chase, David Kleiss and Walter Hensey gathered to pick and sing most evenings, honing their bluegrass skills. When percussionist Jeff Garland joined their ranks, though, their tune shifted. They started playing live and soon added banjo player Hank Smith. As the lineup evolved, so did the music.

"All of us were acoustic musicians for the most part," explains Chase, who calls Barefoot Manner his first real band experience. "Over the years, we got bored. ADD set in, and we decided to play electric instruments and adopt effects."

They may have looked like bluegrass boys, but when the music started, things would take unconventional turns. Reggae, jazz and rock proved frequent inspirations; they were as prone to settle into cosmic Americana territory as speed through acoustic solos.

"For me, it was always about trying to push the limits of what the instrument could do," explains Smith. "Barefoot was certainly a way to cut one's teeth and just grow the musician in the best way possible—trial by immersion."

The band's stylistic goals were matched by ambitious business aims. Barefoot Manner burned up the roads, touring regionally and building markets in the mountains of Colorado and along the shores of California. Appearances in clubs yielded invitations to festivals, including at least one in a "commune" in Utah's Mystic Hot Springs. In 2003, they played 155 shows in 20 states and released a live record, Aqua Leisure.

Years of living within that full-court press eventually wore the band down, and the end came amicably in 2007. There were no hurt feelings or backhanded business deals, just a mutual decision to try something new.

"We had guys in our band starting to have families and jumping back into the work world," Chase recalls. "I think our lease was about to expire, and we didn't want to get kicked out."

But they haven't been silent: Since the breakup, Barefoot Manner spawned a low-key version of itself, Acoustic Manner. This local show isn't as much a return to one another's company, then, as a return to the bombastic form and showmanship that Barefoot explored in its heyday. "Acoustic Manner, it's kind of our weekend warrior thing," explains Chase. "You can shove us in a corner of any given venue."

Acoustic Manner's offered the members a few chances to dust off old songs, but never with the energy or bells and whistles of Barefoot Manner. Barefoot played its first show in five years at the Pour House this April, followed by a few weddings. These reunions offer a chance for them to revisit the material with that familiar zest. "I think we all just kind of had the itch," says Chase.

With families and full-time jobs and other bands, such as Kickin Grass and The Morning After, dividing the members' attention, there's no grand plan for how this relaunch might evolve. But they're keeping open the possibility of new material.

"Walter Hensey, our bassist and founding member, said in rehearsal the other night that we are now the band we always wanted to be, even though we hardly get together," says Smith. "Everyone has grown so much, personally and musically, that we immediately gel when we do get together. It's like it never stopped."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Two reunions."

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